- Associated Press - Thursday, September 9, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - A year from now, NFL fans could be seeing a lockout instead of a sellout.

No pro football _ don’t scoff at the possibility. Both the owners, who opted out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2008, and the players are firmly entrenched for long, often fruitless negotiations. They haven’t really gotten down to serious talks yet, and most everyone believes that won’t occur until after the Super Bowl.

While the NFL season gets under way this weekend, here are key elements in a disturbing scenario that next year could lead to the first NFL labor stoppage since 1987 (remember replacement games?):

Q: Who are the key figures?

A: Although there are many lawyers and economic experts involved on both sides, the burden to reach a deal falls on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. Both are the leaders in such negotiations for the first time, after a history of accord between Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw.

Q: What is the main issue?

A: Money, naturally, and how to divide it. The players currently get 59.6 percent of designated revenues, a number agreed to in the 2006 CBA. The owners have found that onerous, claiming they have huge debts for building new stadiums and starting up NFL Network and other ventures, making it impossible to be profitable.

The NFLPA says, basically, prove it by opening the books of all 32 teams. Goodell counters by saying the players already have total knowledge of NFL revenues and expenses, as called for in the agreement.

Q: What are the owners asking for?

A: If the NFL, buoyed by its massive TV contracts, generates nearly $8 billion in revenues annually, about $1 billion of that is taken off the top for operating expenses. Of the rest, the players would get their percentage, leaving the owners with 40 percent, which they argue is too little.

So the owners want another huge chunk (about $1.3 billion) to go into their coffers before the players get their cut.

The owners also are eager to add two regular-season games and drop two from preseason, thus forcing the networks to ante up more money. The higher revenues from the extra games would mean more overall money in the pot for the players, too.

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